After his meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Chicago over the weekend, President Obama reiterated his support for a plan calling for Afghan troops to bear more and more of the military burden, culminating in a withdrawal of U.S. and other NATO combat troops by 2014.
At that point, he said, the Afghan war “as we understood it is over.”
“The Strategic Partnership Agreement, this NATO summit, are all part and parcel of a shared vision that we have in which Afghanistan is able to transition from decades of war to a transformational decade of peace and stability and development,” Obama said.
That’s the kind of thing that political leaders are expected to say on such occasions, but “a transformational decade of peace and stability and development” remains extremely unlikely for Afghanistan, and all involved know it. We have inflicted a long series of defeats on the Taliban opposition, but we have not defeated them. That’s in large part because the Taliban are an integral part of Afghanistan and they can no more be “defeated” than the Afghan mountains can be “defeated”. Their presence and influence is permanent.
We are not.
The best hope for U.S. interests is that Afghanistan does not revert to being a safe haven for al Qaeda after 2014. In that regard, U.S. leaders clearly hope to retain enough military firepower on Afghan soil post-2014 to launch counter-terror operations should that become necessary. But that capability will depend in large part on how the current Afghan government — backed by Western aid — eventually comes to terms with its Taliban countrymen.
For all of our military and economic strength, we cannot dictate the outcome in other lands. Over the years we keep telling ourselves that truth, insisting that we believe it and understand it, but thanks to the seductiveness of power, we repeatedly allow ourselves to be fooled into behaving otherwise.
Inevitably, we are then reminded once again that we were right the first time — we cannot dictate the outcome in other lands — and we reaffirm that this time we’ve finally learned and internalized that lesson.
Until the next time.
– Jay Bookman